2020 Winners of 85th Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Unveiled
One of the nation’s most prestigious literary prizes announced its winners Monday. The Cleveland-based Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards are the only national, juried prizes for literature that confronts racism and explores diversity.
Karen Long, manager of the book awards at the Cleveland Foundation, shared her thoughts about this year’s four winners with ideastream’s Dan Polletta
Ilya Kaminsky [Anisfield-Wolf]
Ilya Kaminsky- “Deaf Republic”- Poetry
Born in Odessa in 1977, a Soviet doctor misdiagnosed the four-year-old boy’s case of mumps as a cold. This error left Kaminsky, whose family won political asylum to the United States in the early 1990s, hard-of-hearing. Long said while Kaminsky’s hearing problems are central to his work, they have not proved to be limiting.
Kaminsky’s collection of poems, “Deaf Republic,” (Graywolf Press) which Long likened to a play, is a story in two parts about an unnamed town during a time of political unrest. Authorities shoot a young boy in the public square, and the people of the town become deaf and mount an insurrection using sign language.
Namwali Serpell [Peg Skorpinski/Anisfield-Wolf]
Namwali Serpell- “The Old Drift”- Fiction
Serpell, a native of Zambia, makes her home in San Francisco where she is a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Old Drift,” (Penguin Random House) which is Serpell’s first book, intertwines the stories of three families in Zambia over three generations.
Long called it “the great novel about Zambia that you didn’t know you needed.”
“The 566 pages read quickly. One of the profound things that Serpell does is she centers the story on Zambia and people coming to it so that it inverts the way Westerners tend to think about countries in Africa,” Long said.
Charles King [Miriam Lomaskin/Anisfield-Wolf]
Charles King- “Gods of the Upper Air”- Nonfiction.
King, a professor of international affairs and government relations at Georgetown University, is the author of several books. “Gods of the Upper Air” (Penguin Random House) examines the stories of a group of early 20th century researchers who challenged the notion that place of birth and ancestral genes determined both an individual’s makeup as well as character. This widely-held belief led to proclamations about which races were superior or inferior.
Long felt one of the delights of the book is that the researchers who are chronicled will be well-known to many readers, ranging from Margaret Mead to Anisfield-Wolf winner Zora Neale Hurston, whom Long described as “anthropologist of the first order, a pioneer, even though most of us think of her now as a fiction writer.”
Eric Foner [Erin Sibler Photography/Anisfield-Wolf]
Eric Foner- Lifetime Achievement Winner
Foner, a distinguished historian, is one of the nation’s foremost scholars on the Reconstruction period. Foner’s latest book, “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,” (W.W. Norton & Company) calls into question that those who championed Reconstruction following the Civil War were carpetbaggers and inept African-Americans.
“This was a period that had been whitewashed by the movies and the writings of the time with (the film) ‘Birth of a Nation’ being ‘exhibit A. With most careful scholarship, what Foner did is write the great book of Reconstruction that reset the table and the understanding that the questions battled over during Reconstruction, like ‘who can vote, who is a citizen, are you a citizen by birth,’ are very things we continue to debate in 2020,” Long said.
The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony will take place October 1 in Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre.